10th Grade And 10 IEPs Later

September 29, 2005

I woke up early this morning. I was out of bed before the alarm clock and at my window seat with the computer on before the coffee was made. My first morning thought was of Teddy. I then thought about the mom who emailed me recently and told me her eight-year old son was just diagnosed with Aspergers and how she was beginning the journey. I can remember where she is. That was 10 years ago. 10 years. A quarter of my life.

Yesterday I went to Teddy’s 10th IEP meeting. I sat in the counselor’s office at his high school. Five of his teachers, the principal, the counselor, Ted’s aide, the special education teacher from his middle school and two special education advisers were together to discuss Teddy and his 9th grade year.

At first I was nervous. I braced myself as the Spanish teacher expressed a problem she was having with Teddy. Yes, she needs an opportunity to express what the issues are so that we can come up with ways to address them. But as I said, I was nervous because I never know just how bogged down we are going to get and how long the list of problems is going to be.

It is difficult to hear one problem after another. It gets tiring. For the first time in an IEP meeting that didn’t happen. I found myself with a group of people who can see Teddy’s abilities and who really want to see him succeed. They were asking what THEY could do to help instead of what Teddy had to do. They asked good questions and had good ideas. They were caring, thoughtful people. They seem to be dedicated professionals. I was so relieved. I was so grateful.

Ted’s biggest challenges continue to be organization, following directions and handwriting.

He can’t seem to get his notebooks and textbooks ready at the beginning of class. One teacher said it is the middle of the class before he has his homework out… it is supposed to be turned in at the beginning of the period. There needs to be a process he can follow, to help him order himself. He follows processes well. I can relate to wanting a reliable system. They are calming.

He doesn’t follow directions well either. He seems to get overwhelmed. I watched him as he tried to do a biology project. He spent an hour trying to start. So, we sat in the living room and together read through the assignment. He understood the project, he just didn’t know how to do it. I understood the problem. Again, I know how it feels to stare at something and have absolutely no idea where to begin.

I helped Teddy break the assignment down into small steps and then explained how to systematically do each one. To build a wall you must frame it first. I watched the light bulb go off in his head. He understood. He found a process he could put his mental arms around. He put together a wonderful project.

The final concern is his handwriting. It is still a challenge and probably always will be for him. That is what I was thinking about when I first woke up. That is what I started writing about when I first started this piece. Handwriting. How far we have come, yet some things stay the same. Some of his teachers can’t read it. The principal innocently asked if it has always been a problem for him. I explained to her his early therapy and that he was six before he could hold a pencil and write.

He still can’t tie his shoes laces very well. He was anxious when school started because this year he has to wear sneakers in PE. He doesn’t like to wear sneakers because they have to be tied unlike his Merrells. But he has to wear them. So we bought a pair and when we got home the two of us had another shoelace tying lesson. I watched the problems my 9th grader had grasping the laces and trying to weave them. Still after all these years and the hours of therapy he struggles.

When he was four we had him picking up rice to practice pinching. I remember the practice fruit and vegetable set his occupational therapist had me purchase. They were made of two pieces and held together by velcro. The set came with a plastic knife and he had to cut apart the pieces to help strengthen his hands. I can still remember sitting together at his little Fisher-Price table and chair set as he cut and I put back together the pieces of little plastic fruit. Over and over we would do this.

I am happy this morning as I think back on all that I just wrote.

You know how you can hear something but it can take a while for the meaning to have an impact? This morning, as I was scanning the IEP meeting, I could hear the principal saying this was the first IEP meeting the high school has had. They didn’t know what to do. Again, I had to call the meeting, go to Ted’s last school, get his records and deliver them to the new school, call all the parties involved and arrange the meeting. Since Teddy was two I have been doing whatever I have to trying to make things happen. It’s what I must do, it is my responsibility and today I feel rewarded.

Teddy has achieved a new height. He has overcome many challenges and made it into a competitive environment that few do. Everyone has challenges, I understand that. I am just celebrating that we are making it through ours, that we have come this far. How far we have come, what obstacles we have made it through. Ted has worked hard and he has gotten himself into the best public academic high school in the area. He is surrounded by talented students and teachers. We are a long way from when we had to hire an attorney to remove him from an Emotionally Conflicted classroom.

It is my sincerest wish as we enter the final chapter of Teddy’s childhood that four years from now I will be sitting in my window seat, my laptop in front of me, writing about having just sent Teddy off to college. I get choked up just thinking about it. There is no better life pursuit I can ever have than to do whatever I can to support Teddy through the obstacles still present and help him grow into an independent adult.

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9 thoughts on “10th Grade And 10 IEPs Later

  1. I just stumbled upon your blog through WordPress. It’s so interesting to read about an older child’s experience with Asperger’s, because most of the blogs I’ve found have been about young children. It sounds like you’ve been a wonderful source of support for him.

    • Hi Quirkyandlaughing. Ted’s awesome, kinda my hero actually. He knows and accepts himself better than any adult I know. Now that he’s older and made it through some of the earlier madness, the beauty that is Aspergers shines through all the more. Glad you found me and I look forward to following your blog as well. :-)

  2. Pingback: Students With Aspergers: Some Teachers Really Do Naturally Get Them | Life and Ink

  3. It’s strange how every little task is important. Some things we grasp later on – with or without a reason. About writing skills, my daughter Leigha, the eldest, the quiet and conforming child, just could not write. Well, actually she did but the letters were one inch in height. The teachers – right up until grade four, after that I don’t remember because there was nothing I could do – would tell me that her writing was unacceptable and that she had to change that. I didn’t know what to say or do – NOTHING worked! Well now that she is 18, she has a very nice handwriting. The only thing is, the letters are slightly smaller than one centimeter in height. My guess is that their method of “having to” write in these notebooks with the little trails (whatever we call them) were not suited to her writing style. There, I’ve said it! Maybe Leigha would have needed a notebook without trails…

    Maybe it’s super important for Teddy to tie his shoes. But then, there are new laces out there that are somewhat like elastics or something. It’s OK to practice but I really think it is essential to reduce the stress when something is so difficult. And there has to be another way to deal with the school books when he settles in class. Things like that only become important when we make them so. I am sure Teddy will do well in life. Confidence is EVERYTHING and I has to be cultivated at all time for easier learning. :)

    • “Things like that only become important when we make them so.”

      Right there, those words, when you wrote that you hit the nail on the head. We make stuff important. Why? When you ask those who are insisting on stuff they have answers like, “because all the kids have to” or the classic fallacy of tradition, “because we’ve always done it that way.” Good grief, if Picasso had been forbidden to have draw or paint the human form any way but the way anatomically correct we never would have been given cubism. Think of all the innovations in art, science, music, architecture, oh the list just goes on and on. We, particularly the education system, are built on conformity. Your daughter shouldn’t do 1″ letters probably because none of her classmates did one inch letters, thus her’s were wrong. If I were ever a teacher I wish I could see her as an original thinker. And yes, I guess if there was a class with 20 original thinkers it could be chaos, maybe there has to be some consistency, I don’t know I am not a teacher, but I kinda wonder and I like to think about such things. Today Ted wears flip flops and has Merrells for when it’s too cold for sandals. He hasn’t worn tied sneakers since probably 9th grade. He might go the rest of his life and never, ever be able to tie a shoe. Oh well. But in 9th grade he had to wear sneakers, why, because EVERYONE wore sneakers. He was just about the most physically awkward teenager and I really don’t think suddenly putting on sneakers was going to the the PE equivalent of a superman outfit. Sneakers weren’t going to give him superpowers. They weren’t going to suddenly turn him into an athlete. He could do jumping jacks in Merrells just about as well as he did them in sneakers. Probably better if he was comfortable and not worrying about tripping over untied shoe laces or being embarrassed because he couldn’t tie them. Okay, I better stop now, but you really did hit on something important. We all need to ask ourselves why are we making something so important? If we can come up with a good reason and not some fallacy, then we should make it important, if not, we should drop it! :-)

  4. Even 20 original thinkers in a class doesn’t make it chaos. That’s actually what enables dynamic interaction and learning among all. Nothing is regular – the gene pool is so wide. It has also been said that children are their highest level at IQ when they first start school and it goes downward from then on because of imposed structural learning that is not adapted to individual learning needs and style. Check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U on changing education.

    • I have watched Ken Robinson and several of his TED talks and I think he is great! Oh, why don’t we see more of what he speaks about actually happening in our schools? Can you imagine? I wonder though, with so many online programs now if we are going to see a change from the traditional in a brick and mortar school for 7 hours a day structure. I wonder if we will see a whole paradigm shift in our approach to education. My daughter shared with me a quote she had heard, “The first two years of your life you are encouraged to talk and walk. Then you go to school and are told to shut up and sit down.” I looked at her and was like, “my gosh this girl is sharp.” Ted taught me that so often it wasn’t originality school valued, it was conformity. You would think they would be thrilled to have a kid who loved to learn, who just might have a photographic memory, who tests 3-4 standard deviations above the mean in academic achievement. Who wondered about things, who questioned things, who loved learning for the sake of learning. Who read about subatomic particle physics in 1st grade (yes). You would think a teacher, a school would be like “Oh my gosh this kid is awesome. We need to feed him. We need to do what we can because what his brain might be able to do someday.” Instead, when I asked to move him into a higher math class because he already knew the math, or a higher reading class, etc. over and over again I was told, “We don’t do that.” So instead he sat in class, bored out of his mind and picked at and then when he acted out, practically inevitable, he was punished. And this was only 1st grade. What was he taught? He was taught at 7 years old to HATE school. That it was a miserable place to be. He was also taught hypocrisy. He was told the teachers were there to teach and that they cared. But for him they did neither. Moreover, he was told school was a “Safe Place” there was even a sign on the school that said that, but school wasn’t safe for Teddy. It was anything but. It was actually at times a place of torture. Now I don’t mean to paint with too broad a brush, because there are outstanding teachers and principals who care. But those early years for Teddy, the years that set the tone, well honestly, they blew it and they should hear that, because for the next ten years it was a struggle of massive proportions to get Ted through school because of the damage done early. We did it and with the help of some wonderful teachers, but Linda, I was so absolutely exhausted when that kid graduated high school! Okay, I’m going to be quiet now. This is now long enough to be a post! What a can of worms you accidentally opened! Thanks for listening. :-)

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